Bootmaking is one of the greatest artisan traditions unique to the United States that is still alive and thriving today. I often forget that western wear has it’s own subset of richly talented artisans doing custom work. It is truly its own subculture.
It is no surprise that Texas is home to a rich tradition of bootmaking as well as to the greatest living bootmaker, Lee Miller, who lives in Austin, Texas. I had the privilege of an introduction to Lee and his wife Carrlyn by a mutual customer and friend during a trip through Austin a few years back with Simon Crompton from Permanent Style (he wrote about Lee in several posts).
Lee was trained by the late Texas bootmaker Charlie Dunn (1898-1993). Charlie was a fifth-generation bootmaker and begun making custom boots by the age of 11. He was widely dubbed the “Michelangelo of cowboy boots” and first gained widespread notice after Jerry Jeff Walker’s song “Charlie Dunn” (1972).
Lee began apprenticing with Charlie at around twenty years old and quickly took to the craft (read the full story on Charlie Dunn’s wikipedia page). This means that Lee, who continues Dunn’s legacy, learned how to make custom boots using the same artisan techniques used back at the turn of the century. And if you speak to Lee, little has changed over that time with how the boots are made.
Everything is still done by hand and is completely bespoke. From the creation of the client’s wooden last, to the design, cutting, and stitching of the boot leg, the rich tradition of cowboy craftsmanship is strong at Texas Traditions.
For example, Lee, to this day, still hammers out a 3/8″ steel nail to be used as the boot shank and wooden pegs are used to secure the waist of the sole. You can follow Lee’s work more closely on his Instagram account, which he updates almost daily with the progress of various pairs of boots on which he is working.
Lee’s wife Carrlyn, who manages the business and does all of the polishing, recently began using Saphir Shoe Polish, and couldn’t be happier. Carrlyn and Lee said that they were a little reluctant to try it at first. “We have people who come in here all the time asking us to try something they say ‘is the best,’ so we are always a little reluctant when we hear those words,” the Millers said. However, after Kirby finally sent them some polish, they say, “The Saphir Shoe Polish is truly incredible. There is nothing out there like this. It is really amazing just how much better the polish is than anything else we have ever used.” Of course, such a compliment is truly flattering from such renowned bootmakers – two people that truly known their leather.
Lee and his wife Carrlyn are incredible people, truly passionate about their art and craftsmanship. And in true Texas fashion, they are also two of the nicest people you will ever meet. As you can imagine, they are in very high demand. They are not accepting any new customers and those lucky enough to become one get to look forward to a four-year wait for their first pair of boots.